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50/50

About The Production
Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg and Will Reiser first met behind the scenes of the outrageous British import comedy series, "Da Ali G Show,” where Rogen and Goldberg were upand- coming writers and Reiser was just beginning his career as the show's associate producer. All in their early 20s at the time, they were the youngest staff members on the show and bonded immediately.

Then the unthinkable happened. As Rogen and Goldberg watched, their friend began to unravel before their eyes. "The pace on that show was insane,” says Goldberg. "It was 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For about six weeks straight, we would be staring at Will all day and he looked lousier every day. We didn't know he was sick, so we just made fun of him. Sasha Baron Cohen, who was the star of the show, was kind of the ringleader. And Will laughed along with us.” "Will was always really sick,” agrees Rogen, "It was like in Raiders of the Lost Ark when those people were melting. He was visibly unhealthy.”

Finally, 8 months after they wrapped on "Da Ali G Show”, Reiser told his friends he had been diagnosed with cancer. "We were obviously shocked and saddened,” Rogen says. "But in a way, it was a huge relief to find out that there a reason he looked so bad. We thought he was just living hard. Will told us he would probably live, which was good news, and we began a long process that we were all pretty ill-equipped to deal with.”

Even as Reiser was going through the process, Rogen and Goldberg were encouraging their friend to start writing. "When anything remotely interesting happens, my first instinct is to try and think of a movie based on it,” Rogen says. "And it seemed to me that I'd never seen a movie about a young dude who has to deal with a potentially fatal disease. I thought it would be really interesting and it could be really funny. Will is so funny and weird and neurotic. He might be the worst guy that could ever get cancer. Not that anyone would take it well, but he has a particularly rattled disposition.”

But Reiser had a long way to go before he would be ready to write the script. His doctors made a tentative diagnosis of lymphoma, but further examination indicated that this was not the case. After batteries of intrusive tests, he learned that he had a giant tumor growing along his spine. "It was big and it was not in a good place,” says Reiser. "It became this unknown entity living in my body and I didn't quite know what it was. I didn't know what the outcome was going to be.”

The surgeon walked Reiser through the proposed treatment. A six-hour operation would remove the tumor, but recovery, both physical and emotional, would be long and grueling. "The doctor told me I would be in the hospital for a week,” Reiser remembers. "I didn't realize it would be a week of the most excruciating pain I had ever experienced.”

It was two full years before he felt he had the proper perspective to reflect on the experience creatively. "At that point, it became cathartic,” he says. "I didn't know it would be. The more I talked to Evan about what was happening to me, the more he pushed me to write.”

The gravity of the subject made it seem all the more ripe for comic treatment, Goldberg says. "All humor is based on dark and bad things. This is the darkest of topics, and so we thought it could be the funniest of topics—if it was handled correctly.”

Reiser's first draft had all the elements his friends were hoping for. "Seth and I are super brutal when it comes to any script anyone sends us,” Goldberg says. "This was the best first draft of anything I've ever read. I don't like to say such nice things about my friends, but it's true. Will nailed it.”

Ben Karlin, who would become a producer of 50/50 first heard the idea for the film when he offered Reiser a job with his production company Superego Industries. A few years earlier, Reiser had been offered a field producing job on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and had turned it down. "We were all shocked when Will passed on the Daily Show job, which was a pretty coveted gig" Karlin says. "Later, we found out that it was because he had just been diagnosed with cancer. Then it made a lot more sense."

The second time around, Reiser accepted. When Karlin learned about the screenplay, he quickly added it to his company's roster. "Seth and Evan were involved because of their friendship with Will,” he says. "It all came together in a really natural way.”

Karlin notes that although pitching a comedy about cancer sounds like an impossible task, the project had some inherent strengths: "Seth Rogen was involved. That really helped the process. It was a really strong, funny script that hadn't been done before. Everybody got so excited to work on it.”

"Everybody” included Nathan Kahane, president of Mandate Pictures and producer of several other off-beat comedies, including Juno and Stranger than Fiction. "What drew me to this project was that I had never seen a story about a young person dealing with life and death, on top of all of the things people deal with in their 20s,” says Kahane, who came on board as executive producer. "It felt really fresh.

"It was all there on the page,” Kahane says of the script. "We were in business a couple of days later. Seth and Evan are two of the most creatively exciting producers I've ever worked with. They are natural storytellers and they love movies.”

Kahane was most impressed by the depth of experience that the first-time producers brought to the table. "They have been well trained by Judd Apatow,” he says. "They bring an artist's eye to the process, while still understanding the needs of the moviegoer. Everyone came to this project purely out of passion and it was a great environment.”

After working together for several years to fine-tune the script, the filmmakers turned their attention to finding a director who would understand the story's delicate balance of drama, pathos and humor. Jonathan Levine, who directed the 2008 Sundance Film Festival Audience Award winner The Wackness, read the script and was so moved by it that he tried to get in touch with Rogen and Goldberg directly. "I wrote a letter telling them what a big fan I am of the way they have been able to take comedy in new and challenging directions,” Levine says. "I told them how much I wanted to work with them and how much I loved this project.”

But Levine's letter sat unanswered on Goldberg's desk for a long time—two and half years. "I kept thinking about that letter,” says Goldberg. "It was so nice that I put it aside and said, ‘we really should respond to that letter. That guy was really nice.'”

As the search for a director heated up, Goldberg's assistant suggested that he watch The Wackness. Goldberg did and recalls, "It was awesome.”

After his first meeting with Levine, Rogen remembers thinking, "He's exactly like us, and we got along really well. You can tell pretty quickly if someone has a vision and Jonathan clearly had a vision. The minute we sat down and started talking to him, we knew he was a guy that we could totally work with.”

Reiser says Levine's understanding of the fine line between comedy and drama made him the perfect choice. "Jonathan brought his own unique point of view to the movie and we were very fortunate to work with him,” says the writer.

Levine's approach began with a decision to put the idea of genre to the side and concentrate on the characters. "The actors are driving the story,” he says. "I have a tendency to

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